How to Become an Organ Donor in California

Four Methods:Deciding to Become an Organ DonorRegistering to Become an Organ Donor through the Donate Life California WebsiteRegistering to Become an Organ Donor at the Department of Motor VehiclesBecoming a Living Donor

Every day 21 people pass away because they did not receive an organ donation in time.[1] If you want to help save lives, you might want to consider registering to become an organ donor. In the event that you die but your organs and tissues can be harvested, you might be able to save 8 lives and improve the lives of up to 50 people.[2] If you are a resident in California, registering for organ and tissue donation is very easy.

Method 1
Deciding to Become an Organ Donor

  1. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 1
    Know what organs and tissues you consent to donate. Before you decide to become an organ donor, it is important that you recognize how your donation might help its recipients. If you register to become a donor, you give consent for the following organs and tissues to be transplanted into medical patients in need:[3]
    • Heart
    • Lungs
    • Liver
    • Pancreas
    • Kidney
    • Small bowel
    • Eyes
    • Bones
    • Skin grafts
    • Heart valves
  2. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 2
    Recognize that the process of organ donation does not impact your own medical treatment. Some people worry that signing up to be an organ donor means that they are less likely to receive life-saving treatments in the event of an accident. However, organ donors in California must be declared brain-dead by two separate doctors, neither of whom is involved in the organ donation process.[4] There is no danger to you if you decide to become a donor.
    • Brain death means that the brain is totally and irreversibly nonfunctional, even if your body and other organs might be kept viable for a short period of time.[5]
    • Organ donation can only occur when a patient is brain-dead but whose other organs are still viable, often with the help of mechanical means such as a ventilator.[6] Tissue donation can occur after brain-death or after full-body death.
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    Talk to your family about your decision, especially if you are under 18. Anyone 13 years old and older can register to become an organ donor. However, the guardians of potential donors under the age of 18 have the final say in whether or not organs are donated. If becoming a donor is important to you, communicate this to your family so that they will be on board with your decision.[7]
    • If you have registered as an organ donor and you are an adult, you have given consent for organ donation. If you have not registered as an organ donor, your family might be able to provide consent to donate your organs, which is another good reason to speak with them about your wishes.[8]
    • Even if your family's consent is not required, your family will be notified and supported throughout the donation process.[9]
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    Recognize that organ donation does not negatively impact funeral traditions. Open-casket funerals are still possible with organ donation, if that is your or your family's wish. Your body will be treated respectfully according to your directives and the directives of your family. Organ donation also does not delay funerals.[10]
    • While the costs of organ donations will be covered by the organ procurement organization (or OPO), the funeral costs will still be the responsibility of your family.[11]

Method 2
Registering to Become an Organ Donor through the Donate Life California Website

  1. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 5
    Acquire an email address. In order to register for organ donation through the Donate Life California website, you will require an email address for confirmation.[12] If you do not currently have an email address, consider signing up for a free email address through Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail.
  2. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 6
    Visit the Donate Life California Registry website. The Donate Life California Registry can be found at the following web address: The website includes information about organ donation as well as a registry sign-up.
    • The Donate Life California group is a nonprofit that partners with the state of California in order to facilitate organ donations. They have complete state approval and authorization.[13]
  3. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 7
    Click "Sign Up" on the home page. Clicking "Sign Up" will take you to the following web address: . This page will provide you with important information about organ donation, the privacy policy of the organization, and the registry form itself. From this page, you will be asked to enter your identification information. You will also be asked to give your consent for organ donation.
  4. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 8
    Enter your information into the registry. Donate Life California requires your full name, driver's license or identification number, address, gender, birthday, date of birth, email address, and ethnicity. You will also be asked to create a password for security purposes.[14]
  5. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 9
    Decide whether you wish to limit your organ and tissue donation. If you wish to donate some (but not all) of your organs and tissues, you can indicate this on your registry form. Simply click on the box that asks you whether you wish to set limitations on your tissue donations and follow the website instructions.[15]
  6. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 10
    Consent to the Terms and Conditions. Before you are officially on the donor registry, you have to indicate that you understand that you consent to your organs being donated to patients and that no other person can revoke this consent. You are also agreeing to any medical examination or procedure necessary to determine whether you can donate these organs. You indicate your consent by clicking "Yes" on the sign-up page and then clicking "Continue with Sign Up."[16]
  7. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 11
    Watch for a confirmation email. Donate Life California will send you a confirmation email upon your online registration. Keep your eyes peeled for this email since it might contain additional instructions about your donor profile. Make sure that Donate Life California is not filtered into your "spam" folder so that you can receive all your updates in a timely way.
  8. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 12
    Update your donor profile as necessary through the website. With your identification information and password you can log in to Donate Life California at any point to update your profile. You can update your address, email address, or your name as necessary. If you like, you can also choose to remove yourself from the registry via the website. You can choose to revoke your consent for organ donation at any point.[17]

Method 3
Registering to Become an Organ Donor at the Department of Motor Vehicles

  1. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 13
    Know that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is partners with Donate Life California. If you are a driver or hope to become a driver, it might be easier for you to register as an organ donor with your local DMV. The DMV has partnered with Donate Life California in order to make it simpler for residents to join the registry.[18]
    • Note that Donate Life California and the DMV will enter you into the same registry. There is only one donor registry in California.
  2. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 14
    Visit your local DMV. If you do not know where the nearest DMV is to you, you can use a DMV finder through the DMV website: . If you like, you can make an appointment in advance. Otherwise, you can visit your local DMV during office hours and wait in line as directed.[19]
  3. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 15
    Renew or apply for a California driver's license. You can only sign up for the donor registry through the DMV when you are renewing your driver's license or applying for your first license.[20] Your choice to become an organ donor will be printed directly onto your new license card.
    • Note that if you have an old DONOR sticker attached to your license, you are not registered with Donate Life California. If you have recently renewed your license or ID and you have a DONOR symbol pre-printed on the card, then your decision has been stored with Donate Life California.
  4. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 16
    Check the organ donation box on your license application. When you apply to renew or receive a driver's license, you will be given Form DL 44. This form includes a question about whether you would like to join the organ donation registry. Simply check "Yes! I want to be an organ and tissue donor!" in order to give your consent to join the registry. The DMV will pass along your information to Donate Life California.[21]
    • Note that Form DL 44 cannot be accessed online. You must receive this form at your DMV office in-person.[22]
  5. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 17
    Keep your driver's license and donor card on you at all times. The DMV will provide you with your driver's license that indicates your choice to be on the donor registry. You will also be provided with a separate donor card that must be signed by a witness. Having these pieces of identification on you will help a hospital locate you on the donor registry should you approach brain death.[23]
  6. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 18
    Update your Donate Life California profile as needed. When you register to become an organ donor through the DMV, your information will be passed along to Donate Life California. The DMV will have no direct access to your donor profile after you have registered: only Donate Life California is able to store your decision to become a donor. If you ever wish to remove yourself from the registry or update your information, you can do so through the Donate Life California website at . Simply enter in your driver's license number and date of birth, and you can access your profile.
    • There might be a 2-week delay between registering at the DMV and being able to see your profile on Donate Life California.[24]

Method 4
Becoming a Living Donor

  1. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 19
    Understand that some organs can be donated by living donors. Not all donations have to happen after brain-death. In some cases, a living donor can assist a patient with a living donation. Living donors can donate a kidney, portions of a lung, portions of a liver, and portions of an intestine to a transplant patient.[25]
  2. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 20
    Be an adult in good health. Organ donations after brain-death can take place when a donor is any age and in any state of health before death. However, living donors often have to be in very good health in order to qualify for the procedure. Living donors also have to be older than 18.[26] Medical conditions that can prevent you from becoming a living donor include:
    • High blood pressure
    • Diabetes
    • Cancer
    • HIV/AIDS
    • Infection
    • Psychiatric or mental conditions
    • Substance abuse problems
  3. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 21
    Take the Donate Life California Self-Assessment. Donate Life California provides resources for living donors as well as persons on the organ registry. One of these resources is the Living Donation Self-Assessment which can help you determine whether you are healthy and prepared enough to pursue living donation.[27] Visit the following website to begin to determine your eligibility:
  4. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 22
    Discuss your financial, physical, and psychological well-being with a transplant center. If you have passed initial eligibility checks, a local transplant center will likely get in touch with you about next steps.[28] They will likely ask you a number of questions about your mental health, your reasons for donating, your understanding of the risks involved, your finances, your home situation, and your medical history. They might also provide you with a number of medical tests, such as blood tests, tissue tests, urine tests, psychological screenings, and cancer screenings.[29]
  5. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 23
    Think carefully about the impacts of living donation. Living donation can be expensive, time-consuming, and physically risky. Before committing to living donation, you will have to consider the financial, physical, and psychological impact it might have on you and your family. You also want to be sure that you are donating out of your own free will: not because of outside pressure.[30]
  6. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 24
    Know the medical risks. Living donation often requires being under anesthesia, which brings a number of serious risks with it such as allergic reaction, infection, or death. Other risks might include blood clots, scarring, injury to surrounding organs, infection, and depression. While these risks are low, they are serious if they occur and can have lifelong effects.[31]
  7. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 25
    Know the financial risks. Choosing to become a living donor can be expensive. You might have lasting physical symptoms or psychological symptoms that require treatment, and you might have to take a lot of time off of work.[32] Donation might also cause your insurance premiums to increase.[33] Be sure your pocketbook is prepared for donation and that you have a plan in place to fund your care and recovery.
    • While the costs of the transplant itself will usually be covered by the recipient's health insurance, your aftercare, lodging, meals, and additional therapy might not be covered.[34]
    • Talk to the National Living Donation Assistance group to see if you might qualify for financial assistance to become a living donor.[35]
    • Most donors have to take about 6 weeks off of work in order to recover fully.[36]
  8. Image titled Become an Organ Donor in California Step 26
    Talk with an Independent Donor Advocate about your questions and concerns. No matter which transplant center you use, you should be assigned an Independent Donor Advocate (or IDA), who is not associated with the transplant team. Their only job is to advocate for your needs and interests and to answer your questions.[37] Talk to your IDA about any concerns or questions you have. You should be allowed to delay the procedure at any point, and your IDA can help you if you decide to delay or stop the donation process.[38]
  9. 9
    Donate your organ to a family member, friend, or stranger. There are several different kinds of organ donation depending on who the recipient might be. Most living donations occur because of a close personal relationship with the recipient, though some donors choose to help strangers as well.
    • Directed donation. In a directed donation, a donor names a specific organ recipient. Usually this is a family member or friend.[39] Directed donations among biologically related persons can help the organ recipient have a more successful outcome and reduces the risk of organ rejection.[40] The recipient's transplant center will help determine whether a directed donation is medically possible from a particular donor.
    • Non-directed donation. In a non-directed donation, a donor decides to donate an organ altruistically, to a total stranger. The donor and recipient might never even meet. In this case, a transplant center will determine who will receive the organ based on medical and tissue compatibility.[41]
    • Paired donation. A paired donation can take place when multiple living donors wish to help their respective family members or friends but cannot due to incompatible blood types. In this case, a transplant center might facilitate a paired donation, in which the transplant recipients "trade" their donors. For example, Living Donor A and Recipient A do not share the same blood type. Living Donor B and Recipient B also do not have the same blood type. However, Living Donor A shares Recipient B's blood type, and Living Donor B shares Recipient A's blood type. In this case, a paired donation will allow each living donor to help a loved one by donating to a stranger who happens to share their blood type.[42]


  • Note that becoming an organ donor can be especially important for ethnic and racial minorities. Because there can be different blood types associated with certain minority groups, it can be more difficult for minority patients to find a suitable donor.[43]


  • If you have registered to be a donor in California, your family will no longer have a say in the donation and will not be able to override your decision, unless you are under 18. Medical professionals will continue donation even if a family member objects. Be sure to talk to your family about your wishes.[44]
  • Selling organs is absolutely illegal. Do not attempt to sell your organs.[45]
  • Be aware of the serious risks of living donation, even if the rewards are also huge.
  • Even if you register to be on the organ donation registry, it is quite likely that the manner of your death will not allow you to donate organs successfully. Be aware that you will not automatically save lives by joining the registry: you are just making it a possibility.

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Categories: Blood and Organ Donation